National Geographic News
Photo of conservator Luisa Duarte dusting the Roman sculpture of an Eagle eating a serpent, dating approximately from I or II AD in London.

Museum of London conservator Luisa Duarte cleans a Roman-era limestone sculpture found recently in London.

Photograph by Andy Chopping, EPA

A. R. Williams

National Geographic News

Published October 31, 2013

Archaeologists excavating at the future site of a 16-story hotel in London have uncovered a 1,800-year-old statue of an eagle with a writhing serpent in its beak.

The statue was carved in limestone from the Cotswolds and stands two feet (65 centimeters) tall. The right wing has broken off from the body, but otherwise the sculpture is intact.

The foundations of a mausoleum were also found at the site. Experts have concluded that the sculpture once adorned the tomb of a Roman-era Londoner, likely a high-ranking official or a prosperous merchant.

Life in Londinium

At the time of the statue's carving, London was called Londinium. It was a walled city stretching along the Thames River, with a population of about 30,000. The mausoleum probably stood along a road leading out of the city, in a cemetery just outside the city walls.

Today the neighborhood is near the Tower of London.

Experts believe that the motif of the eagle devouring a serpent represents the triumph of good over evil. In Roman mythology, the eagle was a symbol of Jupiter, the chief god of the Roman pantheon.

The eagle was also thought to carry the soul of a deceased emperor to the heavens, making it an appropriate subject for a tomb ornament.

Historic Artwork

The sculpture is an extraordinary piece of art—the finest work by a Roman-British sculptor ever uncovered in London. In its day, it would have been a public statement of wealth and culture, a sign that even in this distant outpost the deceased was familiar with the customs and beliefs of people in Rome.

The statue's discovery was made during the final hours of an excavation that lasted several months. When archaeologists took the statue out of the ground, it was covered in mud.

Preliminary cleaning revealed carving so crisp that the artifact seemed at first to be a garden ornament from the Victorian era.

The Museum of London plans to exhibit this piece for the next six months. Continuing studies should reveal new insights into ancient cemeteries and tombs, and the life and death of Roman London's inhabitants.

10 comments
Seraphina S.
Seraphina S.

They should go back on a separate expedition, this time looking for other pieces like the one above.  

Raii Mo
Raii Mo

Give the developers more time to uncover this historical site


ryan spurgeon
ryan spurgeon

Amazing find, I hope these developers give the archaeologists more time to uncover the site 

craig hill
craig hill

The author ought to kick the editor's butt for stating as s/he does the thing adorned an EMPEROR'S TOMB when it did no such thing. The article states it may have been atop a relative lowly MERCHANT'S tomb. 

The Nat Geo website is RIFE with these misleading yellow journalistic errors of fact, As if the moron who wrote the captions and headlines didn't even read the article.

I hereby apply for that job, which i would be fabulously better at. ~  craigbhill@gmail.com 

Gary Young
Gary Young

Looks like she has her glove on her left hand too

Stephen Blake
Stephen Blake

Got to wonder why the brush requires a glove to use, but she can rest her hand on the statues wing without worry?!

reva madison
reva madison

6 months at the museum.  Then what?  These pieces always seem to stop just a bit before they should.   It is a beautiful carving from what we can see here.  Did they not find the other wing, at the same location?  If not, then maybe it had broken off before it was installed someplace, and was in storage, or something.


K. Loden
K. Loden

@craig hill You are SO right. I use Nat Geo online very little because of these kinds of errors. They have damaged their brand considerably.

Share

Feed the World

  • How to Feed Our Growing Planet

    How to Feed Our Growing Planet

    National Geographic explores how we can feed the growing population without overwhelming the planet in our food series.

See blogs, stories, photos, and news »

Latest From Nat Geo

See more photos »

Shop Our Space Collection

  • Be the First to Own <i>Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey</i>

    Be the First to Own Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey

    The updated companion book to Carl Sagan's Cosmos, featuring a new forward by Neil deGrasse Tyson is now available. Proceeds support our mission programs, which protect species, habitats, and cultures.

Shop Now »